PlatinumLED is not the first though: blue light therapy has been popular for decades now. And, there's a ton of published science on this topic. I will break down that science down in this blog post and teach you about the pros and cons of blue light therapy.
During that process, I'll rely on existing "systematic reviews" that have been published on this topic. I'll also add some other studies that haven't been included in these systematic reviews but that add context to the discussion.
"Systematic reviews" are a systematization and summarization of existing research on a given topic. For instance, you can have a systematic review on "blue light therapy for acne" or "the molecular mechanisms of blue light therapy" (1; 2). I'll break these down into simple to understand language.
Additionally, below I've added a table of contents that allows you to navigate this expansive blog post:
Light has huge effects on human health in general. For instance, sunlight exposure has huge effects on human health and its effects have been underappreciated by most of science for a long time (3; 4; 5; 6). And, sunlight exposure effects on health are far more wide-ranging than just creating vitamin D in your skin.
For instance, sunlight exposure affects the opioid system in your body, its internal cannabinoid system called "endocannabinoid", influences the 24-7 internal clock in your body called the "circadian rhythm", and much more (7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12; 13; 14). Then, sunlight helps create brain signalling compounds called "neurotransmitters" and aids energy generation through so-called "mitochondria" (15; 16; 17; 18; 19; 20; 21; 22). Mitochondria are the energy-producing factories of your cells.
You therefore cannot take a vitamin D pill and expect to get the full benefits of sunlight exposure. With vitamin D pills, you only receive one out of many health benefits and the approach is arguably very suboptimal.
That sunlight can be broken up into different wavelengths. There's ultraviolet light, ranging from 280 to 400 nanometers in length. Then there's visible light found between 400 and 780nm roughly. Lastly, the spectrum from 780 nanometers (nm) and up to 1 million is called "infrared". Infrared is what makes sunlight feel hot when you're spending time in the sun.
Obviously, for this blog post, we'll focus on the health effects of blue light. Blue light therapy was invented to expose your body to that part of the light spectrum.
Just like tanning beds exist to expose your body to ultraviolet light, and red light therapy exist to expose your body to red and near-infrared light, the goal of blue light therapy is to expose your body to more blue light.
Sometimes the violet light located around the low 400s is included within the blue light, and sometimes not.
A recent excellent systematic review on blue light therapy states the following about the research on the topic:
"The effect of visible blue light on cells and their corresponding tissue has gained increasing interest in recent years. Though obviously effective in some inflammatory dermatological conditions, the exact underlying molecular mechanisms and signaling pathways are still elusive. There are quite a number of studies investigating the photoacceptors, mediators and signaling pathways involved in the cell- and tissue-specific responses observed after blue light irradiation but with controversial outcomes. Two main species as mediators of cellular responses to blue light are NO and different ROS, which have been identified in several studies. However, which species, alone or in combination, elicits the observed effects is still unclear. Here, the balance between both generated species could also make a difference regarding the different observed effects. Additionally, opsins have been identified in the skin which seem to have a light dependent signaling role adding further possibilities for effecting cellular responses with blue light. Clearly, some more effort is needed to describe and characterize these main players and their effects in the context of inflammatory skin conditions." (2).
These researches venture amazingly deep into the physiological mechanisms of blue light therapy.
The most important conclusion here is that there's a large unknown: a lot more research into blue light therapy is needed for deeper understanding. Blue light therapy research is still in its very early phases.
Also, notice that lots of research is carried out on different physiological mechanisms, such as "photoacceptors", mediators, and signaling pathways". ROS or "Reactive Oxygen Species" which underlies oxidative stress and Nitric Oxide (NO), which plays a major role in blood flow and blood vessel health, in part, are two important mechanisms here. Both mechanisms, in turn, are closely related to the benefits of blue light therapy that are currently proven.
Blue light therapy was developed because the gold standard of skincare, ultraviolet light, began to have a reputation for harmful side effects. Whether that reputation is legitimate or not can be read in my blog post on tanning beds.
Basically, researchers wanted a skincare tool that didn't involve ultraviolet light exposure. And, sure, red light therapy has amazing benefits for skincare as well, but blue light therapy offers a second avenue for realizing these benefits (26; 27; 28). Blue light therapy has also be used in dental care. In the next section, I'll look at some of the blue light therapy benefits:
In the section below, I'll consider some of the benefits of blue light therapy.
A huge amount of research has been published on blue light therapy for acne. Acne vulgaris, or simply called "acne", is one of the most common skin conditions out there, mainly affecting young people. Up to 90% of adolescents are affected. Soon, you'll learn why blue light therapy for acne has a decent reputation for that problem.
For writing this section, I've only relied upon existing systematic reviews (29; 30; 31; 32). I'm assuming there that these studies do a much better job summarizing and integrating the published science as they've spent hundreds of hours on these topics.
So what's the outcome? Overall studies have a short duration and are of low quality. The benefit of blue light therapy isn't always clear. Many studies do, however, favor blue light therapy over a control therapy or other placebo. Especially the study participants themselves found that blue light therapy improved their skin condition. When the researchers judged whether inflammatory or non-inflammatory skin lesions improved, there was no difference with placebo (29).
Adverse effects or side effects were rare to nonexistent though.
However, there's a different picture. The second systematic review investigating the effects of blue light therapy on acne concludes that there is a significant effect. For inflammatory acne, there is need for more trials but the overall picture is much more positive than the earlier systematic review I considered (30).
However, the third systematic review finds no effect (31). And, the fourth, on the contrary, is extremely positive again:
"In general, high-intensity narrowband light (405–420 nm) applied for 8–20 min twice weekly for four weeks was reported to reduce inflammatory acne lesion count in the 60%–70% range; noninflammatory acne lesions were less affected. Similarly, a combination of blue-red light has been reported to reduce inflammatory lesions from 69% to 77% with more modest effect on noninflammatory lesions." (32).
Once again, the evidence is contradictory but still hugely positive. Overall, my position here is that there's a very high probability that blue light therapy for acne works well. Of course, more research is needed.
Treatments are generally also safe and without many side-effects. The fourth systematic review I considered states:
"One study investigated safety and efficacy of at-home treatment of mild to moderate inflammatory acne with a FDA-approved blue light device (412 nm) at 2 J/cm2/day (equivalent to typical full-face treatment) or 29 J/cm2/day (equivalent to typical dose after localized spot treatment). [...] Results showed that blue light at both doses were effective in reducing the number of inflammatory lesions and acne flares and associated with improved cosmesis. In addition, 53% of subjects found blue light treatment to be much gentler than conventional acne treatment and 61% reported satisfaction with the treatment. Gold et al. reported a significant decrease in mild to moderate inflammatory acne at 1 and 3 months with home use of Silk’n Blue LED device (405–460 nm) in 17 patients.[..] Patients demonstrated a good understanding of device labeling and experienced no adverse events. Another study evaluated the efficacy of a combination of blue light (415 nm) with red light (633 nm) in reducing inflammatory acne lesions with mild-to-moderate acne after eight 20–30 minute self-administered treatments with a hand-held unit over four weeks.[...] Lesion counts were reduced 69% at eight weeks post-treatment course." (32).
It's good that blue light therapy has decent effects. Conventional acne treatments here often involve treating the skin directly, antibiotics, retinol (vitamin A), lifestyle changes and medical procedures (33). So, if blue light therapy can offer results without sid e effects that is a big gain!
The combination of red light therapy and blue light therapy for acne is also superior to either in some of the studies. I'll come back to that topic later in this blog post.
Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that affects the skin (35; 36; 37). No cure for psoriasis currently exists. The midsection, head, and extremities are most often affected by the autoimmune condition. The problem here is that many people take prescription medication or use skin treatments that have side effects. For that reason if blue light therapy for psoriasis is helpful, it can be a way to minimize side effects for people with psoriasis.
Only one systematic review has been published on psoriasis and blue light therapy though (38). I can't view the full text of that study in any way. So I'll therefore also look at individual studies and summarize them below.
Suffice it to say that the abstract of the only systematic review on blue light therapy for acne is very positive (38). The results section of the abstract states the following:
"Therapeutic modalities using blue light have been proven to be effective as a monotherapy or component of a comprehensive treatment plan for common dermatologic diseases such as actinic keratosis, acne, cutaneous infections, and psoriasis, and early reports support its use in disseminated superficial actinic porokeratosis and actinic cheilitis." (38).
Next up, let's look at some of the individual studies on blue light therapy for psoriasis:
Overall conclusion? Blue light therapy for psoriasis seems very helpful and promising! Different wavelengths in the 420s and 460nm light all help according to recently published science, and blue light therapy sometimes does even better than red light therapy.
Atopic dermatitis is yet another inflammatory skin condition (45; 46; 47). To be more precise, it's a specific form of eczema and is the leading cause of skin disease in the world right now. Once again, there's a role of the immune system and potentially an autoimmune factor (in an autoimmune disease your immune system attacks your own cells, failing to correctly distinguish between "you" and "non-you" cells).
Ultraviolet light is one of the most common treatments used for atopic dermatitis. Prescription medication is also frequently used.
Once more, systematic review studies are highly positive for blue light therapy on atopic dermatitis - same as for eczema (48). Let's once again go over some individual studies though, as there isn't a ton of published literature available:
Only one study investigated the effects of blue light therapy for severe atopic dermatitis as far as I can tell (49). After 5 cycles of multiple treatment sessions, atopic dermatitis improved significantly. Itchy skin, a common and dangerous side effect because people start scratching, sleep quality, and quality of life all improved. Participants had fewer flare-ups of their skin condition and could reduce medication.
As a side note, there is evidence that blue light therapy can also be used in newborns for preventing inflammatory skin diseases in the long run (50). Atopic dermatitis was lower in newborns who received blue light therapy. Blue light therapy, here, could significantly decrease the risk of developing inflammatory skin diseases such as atopic dermatitis for up to a period of 5 years.
Conclusion? Unfortunately, I couldn't find any more direct studies but if you keep treating your skin with blue light therapy, eventually you'll probably get results. More research is needed though.
Eczema, as a generalized condition, may also be affected by blue light therapy moreover (82). I won't go into detail here as a lot more publications are available on atopic dermatitis.
Lastly, some other skin conditions may also be helped with blue light therapy (80; 81). Usually, (chronic) inflammation and a partially malfunctioning immune system play a role here. I won't go into great detail here.
Many of us feel a lot better during the summertime when there's ample bright light available. And, many people will experience what is called "Seasonal Affective Disorder" when they're spending lots of time indoors in darkness during a long winter (51; 52; 53). I'm saying "many" here and not "all" as some parts of the human population don't seem to have much of a problem spending a long dark winter in Finland, Canada, or another country with a high latitude.
Well here's the good news. There's a ton of evidence showing blue light therapy counters Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and helps to improve mood. Often, in these cases, people are underexposed to bright light, leading to problems down the road. So let's look at some of the research on this topic:
Overall, blue light therapy for seasonal affective disorder is promising, although I'd rather see more studies of higher quality.
Next up, there's also a lot of evidence showing blue light therapy can improve your circadian rhythm. Remember that your circadian rhythm is the 24/7 clock in your body that takes cues from the light and darkness in your environment - especially blue light.
Simply put, by exposing your eyes to blue light therapy you tell your body it's daytime. Make sure to not wear lenses or glasses during that process for the best effect.
Even in night shift workers, blue light therapy can be used to reduce sleepiness and improve alertness and wakefulness. The same is true if you've often got problems getting out of bed during weekdays. In that case, use blue light therapy in the morning for the best effects. The most important part here is that your light emits blue light, not that it is exclusively blue. White light with a regular dose of blue light seems to suffice and doesn't perform better than blue-enriched light.
In some studies, exposure to blue light in the morning also leads to improved sleep at night. Bright red or amber light during the day doesn't confer this benefit.
A very high number of studies have investigated the effects of blue light therapy on traumatic brain injury (67; 68; 69; 70; 71; 72; 78; 79). These outcomes are quite all-encompassing although more research is needed. I'll summarize these studies here and also the outcomes of the systematic reviews (73; 74).
Traumatic brain injury, as the name already suggests, is a health condition in which the brain has received mechanical trauma (75; 76; 77). As a result, you'll have to recover and sometimes have to rehabilitate. Such traumatic brain injuries can occur due to different reasons, such as a car crash or being hit during a contact sport. Large complications can occur, such as poor sleep, depression, impairments in motor function and sensation, poor cognition, and more.
First of all, blue light therapy seems to be mainly effective for countering depression after a traumatic brain injury. Sleep disturbance, fatigue, and sleep quality also improve with blue light therapy. For other benefits, less evidence is available.
Daytime sleepiness and quality of life are other domains often affected by traumatic brain injury and blue light therapy may help here. For the best results, it's probably useful to use blue light therapy in the morning.
And there's more:
So, now I'll consider blue light therapy for dental treatment. Later on in this section, I'll also briefly talk about whether it's possible to use customer-grade blue light therapy or whether you need professional equipment to get good results.
Let's check a few studies on this topic:
What do these results mean for you?
Well, right now, I think blue light therapy has limited application for the average person. What you could do is to expose your teeth to some blue light if you've got a panel for that, at not too high a dose. The problem is that most of these interventions I described above use very specific protocols in dentistry, often with additional compounds, so that the procedure becomes impossible to replicate for the average person.
Overall though, exposing your teeth to a very low dose of blue light is probably helpful.
I've looked at the effects of blue light therapy on SAD before - now I'll explore blue light therapy for serotonin. Once again, there's a very nice quantity of research available on this topic. So let's explore these studies one by one:
Conclusion? Preliminary research using animal studies are very promising and show that blue light therapy for serotonin is a real possibility. Human studies need to be performed with these study setups though.
I won't go into great detail here, as most readers aren't affected by this benefit. I just want to mention it because it might be important. The health condition called "hyperbilirubinemia" entails that you have excessive bilirubin levels in the blood. That bilirubin breaks down iron, in turn. Hyperbilirubinemia is often called "jaundice" (98; 99; 100; 101; 102).
Especially for jaundice in newborns and children, blue light therapy seems hopeful (103; 104; 105; 106; 107). Just a 24-hour treatment can decreases bilirubin dramatically by ~35%. Apparantly, bilirubin in the skin is affected and secreted. In some cases, full-spectrum light seems to be more effective than blue light alone.
If your beloved newborn is affected by this health condition, I simply recommend reading the studies I've cited above and finding some related sources that might help you.
"So, what's better, blue light therapy or red light therapy?"
If at all possible, I don't want to turn this discussion into a binary choice. Simply put, if you were asking me to choose between a car or airplane, meat or eggs, a house or a job, I'd universally tell you that I'd rather have access to both options, not either or. The same is true for the red light therapy versus blue light therapy discussion - ideally you'll want to expose your body to both therapies.
Should you though?
It depends. In my opinion, if you have access to high-quality sunlight, especially blue light therapy becomes less important. For red light therapy, the jury is still out. We've been in the red light therapy space for many years now, and many people report decreases in health if they're not exposing themselves to red light therapy, despite spending lots of time in good sunlight. Sunlight exposure is essential for health, and yet, adding red light therapy to the mix seems to offer even greater benefits. Alex explained this principle in great detail in this YouTube video on red light therapy benefits.
You probably also know about the following list of red light therapy benefits:
Yes that list is epic...
Moreover, that's just a short list of red light therapy benefits I posted above. Also, remember, the list of blue light therapy benefits that I elaborated on above is very different and much shorter. Nevertheless, the benefits of blue light therapy are still impressive, even though they sometimes slightly overlap with red light therapy benefits. In an ideal world, you wouldn't have to choose and could benefit from both.
So, just like I don't want to choose between a car and an airplane, or between eating eggs or meat, I also don't want to choose between having blue light therapy and red light therapy in my life. Both options have huge benefits.
If financial means are a problem though, at this point, I'd still choose red light therapy over blue light therapy, because there are lots more evidence on the efficacy of the former. And, as a cheap alternative for blue light therapy, and arguably just as an effective alternative, I'd make sure I'd integrate lots of sunlight exposure onto my naked skin and eyes into my life, as a means to ensure I receive all the benefits or most of the benefits of the blue light wavelengths between 400 and 500 nanometers.
The natural question in your mind may be "how to use blue light therapy?". Well, there's no universally correct way to use blue light therapy. First of all, different blue light therapy devices come with different instructions for usage. So if you get a blue light therapy mask the usage pattern will be different than if you've getting a BioMax panel that has blue light therapy in it.
Nevertheless, blue light therapy dosing is important. And, from seeing multiple studies, dosages as low as 2 mW/cm2 already have positive effects. It's likely such dosages are effective because they accord to the exposure pattern of sunlight in a way. Other studies use dosages as high as 100 to 200 mW/cm2 so a wide spectrum of different exposure patterns can probably work well here.
To stay safe though, it's probably best to stay close to the exposure of sunlight exposure. Sunlight has an irradiance of 30-35 mW/cm2 in the near-infrared spectrum, for instance (108; 109; 111; 112). UV levels can also approximate 40 mW/cm2 in the tropics. So, given that blue light is only a small part of the visible light spectrum, it's safe to say that with a dose of 5-10 mW/cm2 you're getting all the benefits you'd normally get from sunlight exposure.
Of course, you could exposure your body to a much higher dose than what you're getting from sunlight exposure. Similar trends exist within red light therapy, where people are exposing themselves to 50 or 75 mW/cm2, which is more than the normal maximum of 40 mW/cm2 for near-infrared light exposure. For many people, those dosage parameters give good results but more research is needed on that topic. Of course, if you're dosing your cells with 75 mW/cm2 using red light therapy, half of that light is red light. And, you're also missing out on most of the visible light spectrum, all of the ultraviolet light spectrum, and middle and far infrared as well. So this issue here is extremely complicated.
Suffice it to say, a higher dose than 5-10 mW/cm2 might work for blue light therapy but just to be sure I'd keep my exposure to the low end and not massively exceed the levels you're exposed to from the sun.
By the way, the topic of sunlight versus blue light therapy is really important. Let's explore that topic next:
Of course, I'm assuming here that you're exposing your entire skin to that sunlight. In cases where it's impossible for you to get mostly naked in a societally acceptable way then blue light therapy can have the benefits I described in an earlier section.
But basically, if you're exposing most of your skin to 5-10 mW/cm2 of blue light from sunlight exposure for 30 minutes or 90 minutes a day, you probably don't need blue light therapy. The caveat here is that if new studies come out showing that the extremely high irradiance levels such as 100 or 200 mW/cm2 have benefits normal exposure levels don't. But, such studies need to be published first before any conclusion can be drawn. And, it's also somewhat unlikely that unique benefits are found at these exposure levels as there's a dropoff in benefits with ultraviolet light and infrared light exposure too. So more is not always better here!
So, generally, no, I don't think you need blue light therapy if you've got sufficient sunlight exposure integrated into your life. And, that sunlight is still the best way you can get balanced exposure to a combination of different ultraviolet light types (UVA and UVB), the whole visible light spectrum (violet, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red), and all types of infrared (near, middle, and far). So right now, there's no viable replacement for sunlight.
Arguably, people can claim that red light therapy has some benefits sunlight exposure doesn't precisely because you can expose your body to a higher power output at very specific wavelengths such as 660 nanometers and 810 nanometers that doesn't exist in sunlight. I would agree with that argument as it makes sense. I think the mitochondrial benefits of red light therapy may outshine those of sunlight exposure, for instance. But so far, I've not seen any unique benefits from blue light therapy that you cannot get from sunlight exposure.
So, right now, my viewpoint is that you don't need blue light therapy if you get regular high-quality sunlight exposure.
Next up, another burning question on many people's minds:
Generally, the answer is "no", you don't need a medical blue light therapy device. Of course, if you want to use a device under for medical goals, under medical supervision, then of course I'd recommend a medical blue light therapy device. But in that case you'll be consulting your physician about the course of treatment.
For the non-medical use of blue light therapy that I'm considering in this blog post, people don't need a blue light therapy device in my opinion. Just grab a device that has normal exposure to blue light therapy and you'll do good.
At first glance, you may think that if the blue light therapy dose is normal then it's fine that it enters your eyes during the daytime. So, a 5-10 mW/cm2 dose of blue light therapy can be beneficial to many people.
However, there's a caveat. Many people in the modern world are already exposed to excessive blue light exposure almost 24/7. Fluorescent and LED lighting is very much predominated by blue light, as well as smartphones and other technology.
If you're sitting in an office for 8 hours a day under fluorescent lighting while working on a computer that emits a ton of blue light, then you don't need more exposure of blue light into your eyes. In that case the added blue light is probably highly damaging.
On the other hand, if you're working outdoors as a construction worker or farmer or gardener, you're probably already getting sufficient blue light exposure through your eyes, and you don't need any more either.
It's very hard to imagine scenarios where people in the modern world need more blue light exposure in their eyes rather than less. If you're outside enough, you don't need more blue light in your eyes. If you're not outside a lot during most days, then you're spending lots of time indoors and you probably don't need more blue light in your eyes.
So, the problem is self-correcting. If will say though, that if you're working in a shop or office under fluorescent light or LEDs and working with screens all the time, then getting getting a tiny bit of extra blue light exposure from blue light therapy is probably not going to move the needle much. The 8 hours you're spending in front of a screen is probably far more damaging than 15 minutes of blue light therapy after you got home from work.
So there's that.
Let's go somewhat deeper into possible blue light therapy side effects:
So let's talk about blue light therapy side-effect - at least potential side-effects. I've listed a few of these side-effects below:
"This high energy blue light passes through the cornea and lens to the retina causing diseases such as dry eye, cataract, age-related macular degeneration, even stimulating the brain, inhibiting melatonin secretion, and enhancing adrenocortical hormone production, which will destroy the hormonal balance and directly affect sleep quality." (113).
The most important thing here, to avoid side effects, is to simply not overdo blue light therapy and to use it at the correct time of the day. To me, it's better to be safe than sorry so here's what I conclude is best:
It's that simple...
Currently, there's only one high-quality red light therapy device that also contains blue light therapy on the market right now. I'm talking about the PlatinumLED BioMax here (code ALEX saves you 5%). You can grab one of the PlatinumLED BioMax panels which all contain blue light therapy HERE.
Hopefully, in the future, more companies will include blue light therapy inside their panels. I'm pretty sure that most people will appreciate the benefits on skin health and mood. Also, as there's not a lot of research on this topic yet, I'm expecting that many other health benefits that have been undiscovered so far will be found in the future.
Very soon, from mid-March 2023, all PlatinumLED BioMax panels will also have an on and off switch that allows you to active or deactivate blue light therapy during your sessions. Some people only want to use red light therapy, not the blue, and will therefore be very happy with this option. Others don't want to use blue light therapy at nighttime (obviously) because it impedes the circadian rhythm in the body and affects melatonin levels at night. As a result, sleep quality will probably be impeded if you use blue light therapy before bedtime.
Also, as a second option, Hooga sells a blue light therapy device HERE under the color therapy section. That device is very small though, but you could use it for spot treatment. Generally, I'm more of a fan of the PlatinumLED approach, where you expose your entire body to a small amount of blue light.
The developments in the light therapy space are extremely exciting. And I'm happy to see that blue light therapy has a place for some people as well. There are many advantages to blue light therapy, such as better mood and skin. I'm also almost certain there are many undiscovered benefits to blue light therapy today that will get scientific backing in the decades to come - just as with red light therapy.
Moreover, as you can tell by my argument above, I still consider sunlight the best option to get blue light therapy exposure. And if you cannot get good sunlight exposure, then blue light therapy is certainly a great addition to any health routine. In that case, make sure you don't use blue light therapy into your eyes in the late evening or at night. You'll have to use the therapy during the morning, afternoon, or very early evening for the best results. And if you have to expose yourself at nighttime, make sure to cover your eyes with blue-blocking glasses or something else to avoid circadian disruptions.
Welcome to the light therapy revolution!
If you want to use blue light therapy, grab a big panel from the PlatinumLED BioMax series or for spot treatment, use the Hooga Color Therapy Blue Light Therapy. Discount code ALEX saves on both. As of this moment of writing, no other options are available from the bigger red light therpay companies. Of course, you can also grab a blue light therapy product from Amazon but then you'd be dealing with companies that me or Alex haven't dealt with before.
This is a post by Bart of team AlexFergus. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy (B), Philosophy (BA and MA), Philosophy of Science and Technology (MS - with distinction), and Clinical Health Science (MS), has had training in functional medicine, and is currently a health consultant at AlexFergus.com.
Join Over 30,000+ Subscribers!